Football fans behave better to cheerful police

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Foreign police forces should forget the traditional riot shield and truncheon and instead defuse trouble with a smile and a "Hello".

Such is the advice of one of Britain's leading experts in football hooliganism, Clifford Stott, a social scientist at Liverpool University. His advice is timely for the Macedonian police who are expecting thousands of England fans at today's European championship match in Skopje. They have travelled against the express wishes of the Football Association.

"The police need to be aware of the impact of their role so that interactions can be managed in a much more effective way," Dr Stott said. "One of the big mistakes around England games is that they are policed on the basis of reputation rather than fact. As a consequence, England fans are often met with high-profile forms of policing regardless of the level of risk that's actually posed."

Dr Stott has researched crowd behaviour with Portuguese, Dutch and British police forces, and has found that outbreaks of serious violence could not always be blamed on hooligans alone. "The police play an important role in structuring the intensity of major incidents of disorder," Dr Stott said.

Because of "negative" police practices, "ordinary fans who had no intention of engaging in disorder get drawn into the dynamics of disorder as a way of asserting their rights".

Dr Stott cited the case of Charleroi in Belgium when nearly 1,000 England fans were arrested and another 500 deported before a Euro 2000 match with Germany. "There was absolutely no way that there were that many hooligan fans involved in that event. What was happening was a blanket sweep."

He said police ought to increase their response to hooliganism step by step. He also said first impressions a football fan had of a host police force were important. "[Police] should begin by greeting fans with a high level of positive interpersonal interaction. The best way to meet English fans travelling into continental Europe is to say 'hello' and smile."


Dr Stott will present his findings next week to the Science Festival at Salford University.